Reducing Waste: Back-To-School Edition

Besides the weird feeling of heading to your college town this year amidst all the current chaos, you might also find yourself a bit relieved to know that you now have more control over your own life. Like people usually say, college is the perfect place for you to find yourself.

Whichever lifestyle you choose to follow, below are some tips to keep your waste level as low as possible. And I mean, even if you don’t care about the environment that much (I’m silently judging you, though), you can still save a lot of money if you follow these basic steps. I know there’s a lot more that can be done, but here are the things that I actually did during my undergrad life, because you gotta practice what you preach.

1. Avoid unnecessary freebies

Orientation Days, Involvement Fair, Club Exhibitions - and the list goes on, the beginning of every school year is the time for the school, as well as all the clubs and organizations, to introduce themselves to you. A common tactic for organizations to advertise themselves is using freebies - merchandise that helps to keep their name in your mind.

I, too, have accumulated a collection of free pens, wristbands, notebooks, and other stationery items from such events. The idea of getting free stuff might sound attractive, and some of them do come in handy, but more often than not, you will end up throwing most of them away at some point. Therefore, to avoid that unnecessary amount of waste, learn to say no right from the beginning to things that you don’t actually need.

2. Walk, cycle, and use public transport

Transportation is one of the main sources of pollution. Reducing the use of personal transportation means is thus an effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The use of public transport also contributes to saving energy and improving air quality. Additionally, I find walking and cycling quite enjoyable, and definitely beneficial for my health. If the distance is not too far, perhaps you should try walking or cycling first, instead of hopping on an engined vehicle.

3. Bring your own bag to do groceries shopping

My tote bags have become my best friend, especially after I learned that plastic bags in The Netherlands, where I attended college, are not free. It might take a while to form the habit of taking your own bag (my secret was to always have one in my backpack, in case I wanted to go shopping spontaneously on the way back from my class). But the effort is definitely worth it, as we all know how harmful plastic can be for the environment. Plus, you can always rock a tote bag that matches your outfit, making groceries shopping more chic than ever.

However, many brands and organizations have been giving out their own tote bags for free, trying to brand themselves as eco-friendly. You might not want to take more free totes than you actually need (remember my first point above?), because tote bags leave their own carbon footprints, too.

4. Have your own to-go kit

As a busy college student, you might need to pack your own lunch or order take-out for those long days of classes and meetings, or just to get your daily caffeine fix. On these occasions, being prepared to eat and drink on-the-go is the easiest way to cut down on waste from single-use plastic and non-recyclable items. What you keep in your bag may vary, but a few essentials include a reusable water bottle, a tumbler, and a cutlery set.

5. Learn basic sewing

Sewing might not be the first skill you think of learning at college, but trust me, it is useful to know. For instance, a tiny hole in your favorite and well worn-out sweater can easily be covered with a few stitches, so you don’t have to throw it away yet. Similarly, most small errors on your clothes can be fixed if you know how to sew, giving your wardrobe a longer life. Moreover, sewing has also allowed me to be a bit more creative and give a personal touch to the presents I give to my beloved.

6. Buy second-hand (and donate the unused)

I tried to buy second-hand whenever I could, from books and clothes to household items. Just because the old owner does not need something anymore, doesn’t mean it can’t be meaningful to you. Reusing gives the goods a second life that they deserve. And of course, second-hand purchases are always cheaper than something newly bought from the store.

The same applies to your old miscellany that you don’t need anymore - there might always be someone who wants the things you are getting rid of. That’s why many students choose to donate their old and unused stuff. Swapping events are also a brilliant idea to get new things while not generating waste.

7. Recycle, recycle, recycle

Of course, before recycling, you should first reduce and reuse. But for those already bought and used, recycling is a good choice to lower the amount of waste. Make sure to check out the recycling regulations where you live. In my college city, for example, I had to bring the recyclables to a recycling station near my place, which indeed turned into a fun weekend activity for me and my housemates.

8. Advocate for low-waste policies on campus and in the area

It is good to change your own behavior, but it is way better to influence the larger crowd around you to do the same. Changes only come with concrete plans and actions, and this is where your activism can be helpful. Not enough recycling options at your university? No vegan option in the cafeteria menu? Ineffective use of energy in the city? Let your voice be heard, and be the change you want to see in the world.

Thu Nguyen

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